The Petaluma Leghorns are officially the best American Legion baseball team in the state of California. Petaluma defeated Southern California's Vista Marietta, 3-2, in a semifinal game Monday and once more on Tuesday, 3-1, to win the California Baseball Championships, at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville.
Petaluma will now travel to Arizona to play in the Western Regionals, which consists of the top eight American Legion baseball teams in the Western United States.
Through the first four innings of the championship game, the Leghorns couldn't buy a hit. No matter how hard they hit the ball, Vista Marietta defenders were there to make the play.
In the fifth inning, down 1-0, the momentum shifted to the Leghorns thanks to RJ Busse. On a 2-0 count, Busse unleashed a mammoth swing and hit a home run to dead center field that rocketed over the outfield fence to tie the game, 1-1.
With one swing of the bat, the game felt completely different.
"RJ's homer propelled our confidence and made us know we could win this game," manager Casey Gilroy said.
The next inning, Petaluma's offense continued to gain momentum. Ryan Walsh led off the inning with a textbook bunt for a base hit and then stole second base. Two batters later, Chase Stafford gave Petaluma the lead with a line drive to left field, scoring Walsh. After a Ryan Huag walk, Anthony Bender knocked in Stafford with a single to right field and the Leghorns had a 3-1 lead.
Petaluma's leader was pitcher Brandon Hagerla.
"Hags dominated on the mound and beat a really, really good team," Gilroy said. "He never blinked an eye."
Hagerla threw a complete game, after throwing five innings on Saturday. After giving up one run in the first inning, Vista Marietta had no chance against the bulldog on the mound.
"I only threw 59 pitches on Saturday so I never felt tired, and I had complete confidence that our offense would score runs for me," Hagerla said.
The only time that Vista Marietta came close to scoring off Hagerla, Petaluma's defense came through.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Vista Marietta tried to run a slash play with a runner on first. The ball was hit hard right back to Hagerla, he knocked it down, threw to second base and Bender fired the ball to first base for a double play.
Walsh had the play &#8211; well, throw of the game -- in the seventh inning. With one out and a runner at third base, Walsh caught a fly ball in right field and uncorked a perfect one-hop throw to Huag at home plate, who tagged the runner out and held onto the ball after a hard slide from the runner.
This was the first time the Leghorns had played in the California State Tournament after losing in the championship of the Area Tournament five times in the past. They acted as veterans and won four straight games to be crowned California's top team.
"This win is for all the great Leghorns of the past," a proud Gilroy said. "Since 2000, 90 percent of Leghorn players have went on to play at the college level and the other 10 percent have done amazing things academically."